The day I broke the law outside school

15th September 2000 at 01:00
Return to the London Oratory School will be a welcome relief for Euan Blair following his ignominious encounter with the law, and his nocturnal high jinks in an Italian hotel.

Scarcely had his bedroom ceased spinning after his horizontal soiree in Leicester Square, when poor Euan had to expiate his guilt with a shame-faced excursion to the local nick. This sorry episode recalled for me an unforgettable moment of youthful misadventure.

My 11-year-old accomplices and I didn't stand a chance as the unrelenting arm of the law cornered two eager footballing squads in a Glasgow cul-de-sac. Our crime was to set up our field of dreams in a street outside the school. It rapidly became clear to us that this intervention by the police was no Sunday Post-style clip on the ear from the local bobby. The uncompromising demeanour of the polis concerned instilled in Sweeney, Feeney, Rooney, Cooney and Mooney the dread apprehension of spending the night in Lawmoor Street police station, where we had often seen battling drunks and harmless gamblers herded in "Black Marias", the police vans of the epoch.

Arraigned before the headteacher, we were severely chastised and instructed to inform our parents that evening about our encounter with the forces of law and order. My pal, James Roarty, accompanied me home, as the prevailing view was that the level of retribution awaiting us in the Sweeney household presented the more serious menace. Our expectations were abundantly fulfilled, and we found it necessary to leave home for several hours to allow the Irish indignation to subside.

I was dispatched to Sergeant Maguire's house to recount my sorry tale of criminality. My mother believed that Bob Maguire, a friend and neighbour, who had attained the rank of police sergeant, would have some magical remedy for her son's deinquent behaviour. Bob Maguire, eminently more sensible than the heroes who arrested us, only wanted to know why we didn't scatter at the first sight of the approaching officers.

When the buff-coloured envelopes summoning us to appear at the Juvenile Court in St Andrew's Police Headquarters dropped through the doors of the aspiring football stars, the recrimination began again. I was warned that if the fine imposed was too high, the police would just have to keep me.

On the day of judgment our parents stood behind us, mortified by the humiliating atmosphere of the proceedings. The charge was read as in an adult court, and we were gruffly asked to plead "guilty" or "not guilty".

When one of the accused, Michael Buggy by name, responded with a plea of "not guilty" his co-defendants glanced incredulously along the line, but Buggy remained adamant. He was only playing in goal, he later claimed. We were duly admonished with a severe reprimand, apart from Buggy, who was discharged and sent packing.

Holy Rood enjoys a positive working relationship with local police, mostly with regard to intruders and miscreants within our wide-open campus rather than to pupils. The community policeman, Rob Whitelaw, is a regular caller.

Constable Helen Birrell knows her customers, and can make a firm impression on them. Sergeant Alistair McDermott removed the scourge of souped-up bikers who plagued our environment. If all else fails, we receive first-class support from the estimable person of Chief Superintendent Norma Graham.

Since my early court appearance, the Sweeney record of criminality has remained untarnished. Not even a parking ticket has sullied it. I wonder whether Buggy has succeeded in keeping his nose so pristinely clean.

Pat Sweeney is headteacher at Holy Rood High, Edinburgh


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